Modern Retail had the pleasure of speaking with Pauline Paterson, Co-Founder and Company Director of Veelow Sustainable Store, about the way she aims to make a difference through encouraging more eco-friendly purchasing decisions in the world of retail.
MR: When did Veelow launch and what was your inspiration behind it?
PP: “Years ago I used to be a diver, so have always had a keen interest in protecting the ocean having experienced that first hand. So as we started hearing more about plastic pollution, I thought I wanted to be more involved in helping to do something myself. I was getting interested in ways to cut down plastic use in my own house, using essential oils to clean my house and cutting down on chemicals for cleaning. I then started making candles which can be refilled as well as the bowl being used again, so you don’t throw it away.
“I had the option to either work more with candles, or work with suppliers of eco products, so over the months I began building up relationships with suppliers. Getting to know them is at the forefront of everything I want to promote on the site.”
MR: How are some suppliers going that extra mile to protect the environment?
PP: “When you are working with suppliers who are genuinely interested in protecting the environment, you notice little things like the packaging they use and these things really matter. You find some who re-use boxes, which is also what I do and it makes the difference. You can tell when you are speaking to people who actually care about the initiatives they are putting out there. What I want to do is build up partnerships with companies who put the planet before their profits. Every company has these decisions to make and the companies that are making sensible decisions about these things are the ones I would want to work with.”
MR: How much of a change have you noticed when it comes to consumers’ attitudes around ethical retail?
PP: “It’s definitely become more mainstream. The big change is the increasing exposure to plastic pollution and people are now paying attention to the amount of plastic wrapping, even if something is labelled as ‘eco-friendly’. When you go to the shops, people are now noticing when things are covered in plastic and making purchasing decisions based on this. There are new zero waste shops springing up, giving more options. When I visited the Ecofair organised by Greenpeace, the essence of it was that people should be realistic. We know we can’t entirely ban plastic as there are sensible uses for it. I’m trying to get across the message to people that zero waste is not just about shopping in thrift shops. There are some shoppers out there that won’t shop in charity shops, and so to sustain a healthy high street and economy, I see the emergence of a ‘middle of the road’ attitude to zero waste.
“It’s becoming quite ‘trendy’ to pay attention to plastic use, as well as ethical and forward thinking in retail. A lot of retailers are realising that if we don’t adopt this way, we’re going to become dinosaurs.”
MR: How much of your business comes down to educating potential customers on the reason to switch to more environmentally sustainable options?
PP: “In terms of informing customers, it’s been through word of mouth and at fairs. It’s guilt-free shopping. I’m aiming to create a middle road option, bearing in mind that not every choice will be as eco-friendly, but informing customers and making them think about the materials their products come from. We still need an economy, but there are incredible options available and ways that you can reuse and refill items, for example, with makeup and beauty products.”
MR: When it comes to sourcing a wide range of more eco-friendly products, how much more difficult is it to find these products at competitive prices?
PP: “It is a big challenge, especially for small businesses starting up like myself. The price tag is certainly higher for some products. There may be cheaper alternatives, but again it comes down to how they are made, and we have to think about worker conditions. I always adhere to the manufacturer’s RRP, making sure the brand value and their website sales are not compromised by undercutting price. This is often the choice families are having to make and this does present a challenge for companies like myself where there can be a high price tag, as it may take longer to be made. I want to drive home the message about putting the planet before profit, in all that we do. For example, for Polar Bear Week, I asked if I could put the option to ‘adopt a polar bear’ on my site, giving a teddy bear and helping a charity at the same time as a Christmas gift. Retailers can work in partnerships to make this happen for their customers.”
MR: If you were to give one piece of advice to a retailer looking to become more sustainable, what would it be?
PP: “There is a learning process which you go through when starting out. You have to buy stock, so it’s not an easy thing to do as you don’t make profits until you’ve got enough stock and can get your name out there. Competing with the bigger brands, you have to continue to learn and if you want to do it, just go for it if you can. You have to push every day and do as much as you can.
“Going to fairs is a great way to network and talk to people, getting amongst other suppliers, so you shouldn’t be afraid of that. Some people worry that others have already done it, or there’s competition, but working together is the point. People have always been really nice and welcoming. Especially as a start up, you shouldn’t be afraid.”
Pauline concluded, “It’s such exciting times for retail and I’m so happy to be a part of what I see as a modern revolution in how people shop to take account of the environment.”
Veelow’s product range is developing, with eco items that will reduce waste from our lives, moving towards a more environmentally sustainable future. With little effort, you can swap out plastic items for long-lasting materials such as stainless steel lunchboxes and water bottles. Veelow also sells and distributes clothing made from sustainable fabrics – bamboo, hemp, and recycled plastic. They are moving into refillable bulk wholefoods with plastic-free packaging as well. They aim to make each small purchasing decision and lifestyle change help the next generation to live with clean water, clean food, and a brighter future.